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PHILADELPHIA-Leonard Ross, head of the Ross & Goldstein law firm and a member of Mayor John Street’s 1999 election and 2003 re-election finance committees, is charged with extortion and fraud in connection with his position as chairman of Penn’s Landing Corp.’s committee to select a developer for a 13-acre Penn’s Landing site along the Delaware River. He was appointed to the post by the mayor. In a 26-page document, the US attorney’s office of the Department of Justice’s Eastern District of Pennsylvania details several ways in which it alleges that Ross used the position and selection process for financial gain.

The document charges Ross with “secretly providing non-public information to Ronald A. White about the process for selecting a developer so that White could pass this information to Tower (locally based Tower Investments, headed by Bart Blatstein), thus improperly enhancing Tower’s prospects of being selected as the developer of the main site.” White, also a local attorney on the mayor’s campaign finance committees and a Commerce Bank consultant, was indicted last year in a separate “pay-to-play” case, but died of cancer just before his trial began.

It also charges Ross with “telling Tower’s representatives … (sometimes through White) that its proposal would not likely succeed, and that Ross would not support it, if Tower did not give White an equity interest in the development.” At the same time, according to the filed charges, Ross was “soliciting White to arrange for a $150,000 line of credit … from Commerce Bank so that Ross could pay a client of his law firm and others … (a debt of) more than $100,000.” According to the charge, Ross faced “being held in contempt of court” for not passing on to his client all of the settlement proceeds from an earlier wrongful death malpractice suit in which he represented the plaintiff. The document describes Ross’ need for a loan as “desperate.”

Furthermore, the document charges Ross with “using his position to attempt to obtain business for Person A … with whom Ross had a financial relationship, from prospective PLC developers whose proposals were pending.” An elaboration of this charge in the document says, “Ross met with a lobbyist retained by Brandywine Realty Trust and expressed his availability to support Brandywine’s bid to be chosen … (and) suggested that Brandywine should give business to Person A.” Calls by GlobeSt.com to Tower and Brandywine were not returned by deadline.

The US attorney’s document also charges Ross with “using (his position in the selection process) …to raise funds for the mayor’s re-election from prospective PLC developers, thus securing his continued employment with Greenberg Traurig.” Specifically it charges that Ross “advocated … that the (selection) process should not be rushed and that a later deadline … would be beneficial, when, in fact, Ross’s reason for advocating the later deadline was to permit (the mayoral campaign committee) to raise funds from the competing developers.”

Regarding Ross’ association with Greenberg Traurig, the charge alleges that Ross told an attorney in the local office of the Miami-based law firm “that, based on his close personal and professional relationship with Mayor Street, he could obtain legal and other business (for the firm).” Greenberg Traurig employed Ross as “of counsel,” and, according to the charges, “paid him a retainer of $10,000 per month” and agreed to add incentive payments for business Ross “brought into the law firm exceeding certain levels.” Under the agreement, according to the charge, Ross would be eligible for the payments “for so long as John Street is Mayor of Philadelphia.”

This case was investigated by the FBI, which obtained numerous tape recordings of phone conversations. On Oct. 14, 2004, the mayor announced that he was recommending to the PLC board that neither developer be chosen to develop the main site. A day later, PLC disbanded the selection committee.

“Everyone loses,” US attorney Patrick Meehan says in a statement following release of the charges. “The developers, the PLC, the city, and most of all, anyone who lives, works or visits here. All you have to do is look at Penn’s Landing and imagine what might have been had the public’s assets been nurtured rather than manipulated.” If convicted of all charges, Ross faces a maximum sentence of 80 years in prison and a $1-million fine.

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